Jaguars upgraded defensive line talent in free agency

Meyer sets bar high for defensive front

John Reid
Florida Times-Union
View Comments
Baltimore Ravens defensive end Jihad Ward reacts after sacking New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones during a December game. Ward is among several additions to the Jaguars' defensive line.

Although Urban Meyer has made the jump to the NFL, he still plans to build around a strength in Jacksonville that led to winning three national championships as a  college coach.

As he did at both Florida and Ohio State, Meyer plans to turn the Jaguars' defensive front into a strong point. With that objective to meet, it didn't come as a surprise that Meyer's top area of concentration in free agency was upgrading his defensive line talent. 

Among the 11 players the Jaguars signed, four are defensive linemen. Defensive end Roy Robertson-Harris and nose tackle Malcom Brown, acquired in a trade from New Orleans, are expected to start right away. 

Veteran tackle Tyson Alualu and defensive end Jihad Ward figure to be significant contributors in the rotation. They will join a group that already includes emerging third-year defensive end Josh Allen, tackle DaVon Hamilton, and end K'Lavon Chaisson. 

''I expect the defensive line to be one of the strengths of our team,” Meyer said. ''I expected our defensive line in college to be in the top 5 in America. In the NFL, I told our staff I expect to be in the top fourth—we should keep elevating that.  I believe we’re going to be in the top 4 in the league on that defensive line.”  

If they pull it off, it would be a remarkable turnaround because last season, the Jaguars' defensive front was one of the worst in the league.  The unit finished with the second-fewest sacks in the league (18) and allowing third-most rushing yards per game (153.3), along with surrendering a franchise-record 30.8 points per game. 

Under new defensive coordinator Joe Cullen, the Jaguars are expected to switch to a 3-4 defensive scheme.  

Bears defensive end Roy Robertson-Harris celebrates after sacking Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins. Robertson-Harris has signed with the Jaguars for 2021.

''It starts upfront with the D-line, so seeing [Head Coach] Coach [Urban Meyer] go after some defensive linemen, myself and [DT Tyson] Alualu and [DE/OLB] Jihad [Ward] and [DT] Malcom [Brown],'' Robertson said. ''Seeing him go after us and we’re trying to rebuild a program, it starts up front. You can’t have a great defense without a great d-line. I think it’s going to be a great front that we have.”

At 6-5, 292 pounds, Robertson-Harris provides a presence off the edge. As he disclosed, it never hurts to model his game after defensive end Calais Campbell, who totaled 31.5 sacks in three seasons with the Jaguars before he was traded to Baltimore last year.   

"I try to model myself after him, being an inside guy and moving in and out,'' Robertson-Harris said. '' I feel like my career could really take off here. To stop a good running back and be able to sack a good quarterback, that’s always great. I don’t feel like I’m one-dimensional. I feel like I can do both, so being able to do both is a plus.”

Brown played for Jaguars assistant head coach/linebackers coach Charlie Strong at Texas. After six NFL seasons, including his first four in the league with the New England Patriots, Brown has 247 career tackles and 11.5 sacks. At 6-2, 320 pounds, he is big enough to fill the lane and take on double teams to free up linebackers to make plays. 

''I expect them to look really big, I mean like, big, big,'' Meyer said.  I used to say that about the SEC, in college football, the defensive lines look different. So, if you look at the size of the guys we found—and [Jaguars Defensive Coordinator] Joe Cullen is a D-line guy and so is [Jaguars Defensive Line Coach] Tosh Lupoi, obviously, there’s a reason why I hired those two coaches, too."

Meyer said they are not supposed to have favorites with training camp four months away yet but Brown has already filled the spot.

''He's (Brown) one of my favorites. I like the fact that we know him. [Jaguars Assistant Head Coach] Charlie Strong recruited him in Texas, he played for Coach Strong,'' Meyer said. ''We’ve had some great dialogue with people who knew him.''

Brown said the Jaguars are building something strong on the defensive line and wants to see it continuing to grow. 

''The big guys set the tone of the game. Everybody goes off of those guys, whether it’s the offensive line or defensive line, they start it all,'' Brown said. ''Offensive line has got to block for the run, block for the pass. Defense has got to go through the offensive line and go stop them. We always make contact first, so we just—it feels good.  I just hope we continue to get better together.”

Newest additions on the Jaguars' defensive front

Roy Robertson-Harris, DE

Age: 27

HT/WT: 6-5, 292

2020 team: Chicago Bears

Contract agreement: 3 years, $24.4 million.

Projected role: Started only 13 of 52 games in four seasons with the Bears, but likely will fill a starting role as the Jaguars' 3-4 edge rusher. He can also play defensive tackle. He started six of the first eight games in 2020, registering 10 tackles and five QB hits before going on injured reserve with a shoulder injury. He has 7.5 career sacks. 

Jihad Ward, DE

Age: 26

HT/WT: 6-5, 287

2020 team: Baltimore Ravens

Contract offer: Unknown

Projected role: Ward will be a rotational player on the defensive front to improve their depth. He is reunited with Jaguars defensive coordinator Joe Cullen, who has the past five seasons as the Ravens defensive line coach before his arrival in Jacksonville. Ward Ward enjoy his most r, tying his career-high with three sacks, along with 16 tackles and eight quarterback hits. 

Tyson Alualu, DE

Age: 33

HT/WT: 6-3, 304

2020 team: Pittsburgh Steelers

Contract offer: 2 years, $6 million

Projected role: Alualu is expected to be a rotational player but could win the starting job at the start of the season. He spent his first seven seasons in the NFL with the Jaguars, who selected him 10th overall pick in the first round in 2010.  Alualu has 24.5 career sacks.    

Malcom Brown, DT

Age: 27

HT/WT: 6-2, 320

2020 team: New Orleans Saints

Contract offer: 2 years, $11 million

Projected role: The Jaguars acquired Brown in a trade in exchange for a  draft pick.  Brown could be a rotational player. He had 61 tackles in 29 games during his two seasons with the Saints. Brown spent his first four seasons in the NFL with the New England Patriots.

View Comments